China Travel Guide

Hongwu Emperor

Emperor of Taizu of Ming, giver name Zhu Yuanzhang, ear name Homgwu Emperor, ruling time 1368-1398, was the founder and the first emperor of China Ming Dynasty.
♦ Founder of Ming Dynasty
Zhu Yuanzhang was born into a destitute peasant family in the 14th century AD. He lived as a monk, a wanderer and a rebel leader. He led a rebellion that successfully toppled the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 AD and went on to take the title of Emperor Hongwu and become the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty.
♦ Hongwu Emperor Ruling Time
Zhu Yuanzhang’s imperial name was Emperor Hongwu; he took the temple name of Taizu. His rule brought a return to neo-Confucian doctrine in Chinese government. The imperial examination system which the Mongols had abolished (based on Confucian classical texts) was reinstated. Emperor Hongwu also wrote Da Ming Lü, an updated, comprehensive legal code with a heavy Confucian influence.
Emperor Hongwu, or Taizu, remembered his own peasant past and many of his policies were designed to aid poor farmers. He distributed land to many poor farmers and created records to prevent the gentry from taking peasant land. Public works projects, including dikes, irrigation canals and more, were designed to help the peasantry. Land taxes were kept low during the rule of Emperor Hongwu. His policies conformed to Confucian doctrines that place agriculture above commerce and trade.
However, Emperor Hongwu was also incredibly cruel and paranoid. He frequently executed those he suspected of plotting against him, and even went so far as to punish friends and family members of the accused. He was known for whipping and beating his ministers in court if they displeased him.
Zhu Yuanzhang, known as Emperor Hongwu or Taizu, was one of China’s most enigmatic figures. He rose from a peasant background, lived as a monk and a rebel leader, and eventually became the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He was sympathetic to the plight of China’s poor farmers but as a ruler he was ruthless and paranoid.

♦ Hongwu Emperor Ruling Policy – A self-sufficient society
Emperor Hongwu (ruled in 1368–98) attempted to create a society of self-sufficient rural communities in a rigid, immobile system that would have no need to engage with the commercial life and trade of urban centers.
His rebuilding of China's agricultural base and strengthening of communication routes through the militarized courier system had the unintended effect of creating a vast agricultural surplus that could be sold at burgeoning markets located along courier routes. Rural culture and commerce became influenced by urban trends.
The upper echelons of society embodied in the scholarly gentry class were also affected by this new consumption-based culture. In a departure from tradition, merchant families began to produce examination candidates to become scholar-officials and adopted cultural traits and practices typical of the gentry. Parallel to this trend involving social class and commercial consumption were changes in social and political philosophy, bureaucracy and governmental institutions, and even arts and literature.
♦ Death
Hongwu died on 24 June 1398 after reigning for 30 years at the age of 69. After his death, his physicians were penalized. The Hongzhi Emperor and Jiajing Emperor's physicians were executed. He was buried at Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum on the Purple Mountain, east of Nanjing.
♦ Historians Comments on Hongwu Emperor
Historians consider Hongwu to be one of the most significant emperors of China. As historian Ebrey puts it "Seldom has the course of Chinese history been influenced by a single personality as much as it was by the founder of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang." His rise to power was fast despite his having a poor and humble origin. In 11 years he went from being a penniless monk to the most powerful warlord in China. Five years later, he became emperor of China. Simon Leys described him as:-'an adventurer from peasant stock, poorly educated, a man of action, a bold and shrewd tactician, a visionary mind, in many respects a creative genius; naturally coarse, cynical, and ruthless, he eventually showed symptoms of paranoia, bordering on psychopathy.

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